Local tour guide cries foul over free art tours 

Tour business plummets but free tours not "hugely successful" either

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Local artist Penny Eder has been hosting art tours around Whistler for the past eight years, seeing her business grow year over year. Until this year.

Her tours have dried up, she said, ever since the Whistler Arts Council and the Whistler Museum began their own free arts tours.

"Last year was definitely my busiest year," said Eder of the daily tours around the village, looking at public art pieces, local galleries and art collections in some of the hotels.

"Once they introduced the free tours, that just stopped.

"I can't compete with free."

Eder is angry and frustrated, so much so that she wrote a letter to council in mid-September complaining about the free art tours. Council directed staff to look into the issue at the last council meeting.

Whistler Arts Council executive director Doti Niedermayer has a different view on the matter. She said this is not the first year they've been offering the tours, rather they've been ongoing at various times in the summer since 2009 when Whistler was designated a Cultural Capital and received grant money.

"I think ours is different and it's creating more partnerships between community and cultural organizations," she said.

"For us, it was more of a community service...rather than a business proposition."

Niedermayer added that tour take-up was just "so-so" this summer.

"We didn't have a lot of people taking the tours this summer," she said, musing that the good weather could have been a deterrent.

"It wasn't a hugely successful thing.

"I certainly don't feel that we took any business away."

Comparatively speaking, the free tours are shorter and designed for a handful of participants, unlike Eder's tours, which can accommodate large corporate groups.

Niedermayer said the arts council has sent business Eder's way over the years to accommodate some of the bigger groups.

Eder, however, objects to publicly funded organizations copying and competing with privately funded businesses.

She pays property taxes in town, business fees as the owner/operator of White Dog Studio Gallery, insurance costs and advertising all to keep her business, including the tours, going.

She said: "Just be fair about it, and charge for it."

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